Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Synesthetic Impressions


This writing exercise idea was offered by Dr. Jeffrey Lee in a class at the University of Northern Colorado.


Synesthesia is a condition in which one affected by it will experience a transfer of information received from one sense to an impression in another sense. Trying to interpret a visual impulse as a sound or vice- versa, would be an example. Using words to describe what is typically sensed as smell, as a color, or a taste expressed as a sensation of touch, can enrich the vocabulary of a writer, and expand his or her means of expression.


Since my own mother experienced these kinds of sensations, and since this was the first time I ever knew there was a name for the condition, when I chose to write a series of poems about my mother, I tried to interpret her experience of the world through the prism of mixed senses, in a group poems about her. This is one of these:


Summer Sybarite 1918

Once she found it strange that no one

else saw by touch or heard the secrets

sung by woodland trees, or that others

never smelled the same colors as she,

or felt melodies moving playfully upon

their skin, as she felt on hers.


When she asked if her

grandfather felt itches from different

pitches played on his violin, his look

was so completely shocked, she

decided these sensations should

not be mentioned. Private. Secret,

and as she grew, she wondered if

the extrasensory and purely pleasurable

perceptions she gained, were perhaps,

dangerous, and… evil?


It would remain her secret, a pact

sealed by the sweetness of sun kissed

berries, silenced behind sealed lips,

but told maybe only one sometime day

to her one and only one time love.


Yes! she dreamed of love, and

sometimes fame, and music always,

accompanied her thoughts, filling her

heart with a crescendo of joy or a dirge

of sorrow, if that was what was on the wind.


On summer nights, through the upper

window she watched the sensual dance

of the Aurora borealis. She reached

with outstretched palms toward

the rainbow curtains, silently matching

the swell of those colors to tones of

keystrokes, set to music using the rhythms

she heard in her head, as she watched

the harmonies of ribbons unfold

across the sky,

but remembering always

to praise God for these blessings…

for being alive, punctuated by being

an instrument of such pure pleasure.


Yet at times she feared that things

which brought such rapture were not

of God, but were instead meant

to test her in this, her private wilderness,

where senses never kept their place.



Writing Exercise Challenge:


Try to convey the impression of an auditory environment , and sounds as accurately as possible but use words normally used to describe “colors, temperatures, textures, scents, flavors and even synesthetic sensations.” Lee said “one poet wrote a piece that transfigured sounds into the way one would dance to them” choreographing the sound and dancing to them.


There are several other parts to this exercise beyond just using mixed senses and impressions as a beginning. if you are interested, you might try to contact Dr. Jeffrey Lee via a Google search for

Jeffrey Lee, Invisible Sister- Many Mountains Moving. (one of his poetry books.)


Writing on this blog is the © of Ruth Zachary.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010





A Rant is usually a long poem in which the poet explores a subject in a noisy, fast paced, declamatory or bombastic manner. It was a form developed by the beat poets in the1950s in California. It is a form

presented in free verse, or as a series of prose paragraphs. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl is a well-known

example. Rap is similar to this form, but rap usually incorporates rhyme and rhythm accompanied

by a drumbeat or electronic percussive beat.


This poem began in a class taught by John Rybicki, in Michigan. He had class members write down

words that had great importance for them. These were “words of power.” We all exchanged our words,

and I drew John’s word, brick from the hat. At first I thought I could not relate to the word at all.

My resistance reflected my anger and led to writing this rant, which in the end I discovered I liked.

It turned out to be a word of power for me after all.


Resistance to something is a good indication that there is some suppressed emotion about the thing

being resisted. If you encounter it in yourself, you may find it will provide fuel for a poem

(or even another writing form) you had never thought about writing. Try this as a writing exercise.



Begetting Bricks

Dedicated to John Rybicki



The bow-tied gift is painted

in hard brushstrokes, mortar

scraping the hand, drawing blood.

Unwrapped, I see only brick.

Bricks are unyielding, brittle,

I become hard in saying it.

I am like my friend who built up walls

without windows around herself.

I tried for a while to knock them down,

but learned self made walls,

regenerate themselves.

resistance is a pointless effort.

From the brick,

I learned something about resistance.

I accept the gift.



I try to be flexible, creative

even with bricks.

Firebricks piled grandly

in the basement of my childhood home

for years were the source of imaginary

playhouses and yellow brick walkways.

In my youthful fantasy,

I built a kiln with those bricks,

and in that primal oven,

fired sculptures, bas-relief,

tiles, tablets, containers,

to hold all manner of bounty.

I once wanted to fire clay into pots.

Foundries, ovens and kilns utilize

fire to harden objects

molded to the will of a creator,

but the bricks and daydreams

stayed in the basement,

sold by my father with the house.



Bricks are artificial shapes

in a natural world with a life force

of their own, which expand

upward, hard and linear,

against an ever more distant sky.

Bricks and concrete are allies with asphalt,

infrastructure crusting the earth.

Brick structures become wedged against the

natural boundaries of organic space.

Bricks are mortared into inflexible walls,

forming a fortress of power over others,

as well as the impenetrable prison

holding some within, and barricading

others without, exiling the poor

often without resource.

Bricks break the windows of the dreamer.

They become bunkers for predators

Bricks become tombs,

gas chambers; crematoriums.

Bricks become the poor man’s bludgeon;

the means for crushing the structures

which crush them; the means of survival

for the fittest, as the poor feed on each other.



Kilns are brick wombs birthing

clay offspring; bricks, whose families

will become other ovens.

Bricks are loaves in the oven, bread

to feed other bricks.

Societal forges burn, melt,

reshape other material

to the will of the mass mind of Brick society,

structures built in modular sequences as

hard and linear as the original unitary shape.

These structures, brick by brick

expand upward but have limits,

which demand glass ceilings to limit

higher achievement by other material,

Unless allied with concrete and steel.

I overheard an unkind remark, harsh,

bruising. The words fell like bricks

on the ear, hard rectangular shapes,

mortared together in rigid concrete

structures, prototypes for conformity,

blocking territories in the mind.

Bricks are the foundation and walls

of homes and churches, nations.

patterned in conformity

molded by invariable formula.

and in turn, they are the structures

housing religious family values

that would demand conformity

as regular as salt crystals,

cubed and cloned in exactly the unitary shape.

the ultimate Nirvana brick where

the ultimate family values

are of one mind, one cube, one hive,

with computers, mass media

and assimilation for all.



The ikon god of bricks

would be as indestructible

as the ominous obelisk

from 2001 hurled into space.

That brick, morphed into a monolith

in its trek to other worlds

(where no brick has gone before)

has become the robotic ship

inhabited by Borg. Resistance is futile.


If you would like to see more of Ruth Zachary's Abstract Art, visit her blog,

Writing and Images are the Copyright © of Ruth Zachary.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


I Never Knew Rosella Ruth. Vintage Photo-Montage, by Ruth Zachary.


Even if you are not a writer of fiction, you can benefit by finding new approaches to depict a person, or a character. In poetry or in biographical sketches, and even in news reporting, incorporating details, which authentically reveal character, can enrich your writing.



Character traits fall into different categories:

General Traits formed by heredity and environment;

Universal, important when a character departs from the norm.

Nationalistic; traits resulting from culture, language, history, etc.

Regional; traits peculiar to a certain region or location.

Group; traits derived from occupation, social status, sex, etc.

Period, Century or Decade or Era. Traits specific to time periods.

Physical Traits found in the physical makeup of the person, but which often are symbolic of other sorts of traits deriving from the background.

Personal Traits found in the social or ethical aspect of the individual.

Emotional Traits found in the mental or psychological cast of the personality.


The following list includes characteristics a person may reveal. Pick one or more to use in your depiction of him or her to convey an idea of personality. Show how the person discloses these traits, rather than by description, or “telling” the reader or interpreting the character. Conversation with you or with another may reveal the character’s motivation, peculiarities, attitudes, etc. Observation of actions may suffice. Descriptions of physical appearance, or clothing are best intermixed with conversation or observation to be more interesting. Descriptions which are symbolic, as with a physical setting can convey a great deal about a character.


Her style, her dress.

His values, ethics, integrity, character and beliefs

His actions or behavior as related to the above

Her way of thinking, her thoughts

His manner of speech, gestures, or language

Her intelligence

His wisdom

Her personality or affect

His peculiarities, differences, aberrations and contradictory traits

How she solves problems

His life routine or way of being

Her physical landscape, geography, climate

His habits

Her pleasures and leisure activities

His possessions

Her limitations and barriers

His home surroundings; did he create them?

Her occupation, work, specialized experience or vocabulary

His goals and achievements or lack of them

Her social milieu, its commonalities

His unrealized dreams

Her talents, capabilities, strengths and skills

His relationships and the way he views them

Her Ethnicity

His Era of life; the decade he grew up in and how it is revealed in him.

Her Country, and political or economic climate

His childhood experience

Her genetic material; physical attributes

His appearance, gender, sexual preferences and age

Her prejudices and fears, secret shame, or back story, hinted at - not told

His spirituality, religion

The way she experiences the world; which senses are dominant.

How others see him... what they say about him

What she says or thinks about other people


In the following poem, I characterize a grandmother I never met using two photos and a few scraps of information from a letter and from other’s accounts.


I Never Knew Rosella Ruth


I have two likenesses of her, and a letter

written to her parents, just after she

was married in 1902. Nearly every

other paragraph mentioned “Charlie.”


In the first photograph, her hair was pulled

severely back from her symmetrical face,

her round heavy-lidded blue–gray eyes

stared out under carefully shaped brows,

and a strong chin held her blended

cheeks in place. Her plainly pinked lips

seemed motionless over a black stiff

bodice lined with a white parson’s collar.

She had retouched the photo herself.

Was it the retouched woman who

willingly surrendered to death, and left

an infant and a devastated Charles behind?


Aunt Lillian’s photo of her was less formal,

less perfect than other family recollections.

A vital, direct, and hopeful gaze looked

at me openly as if curious about what kind of

granddaughter I had become. I noticed

her face was not symmetrical at all,

left ear and eye slightly lower than the right,

with a hint of blood, dark in sensuous lips.

Her mouth and chin were still determined,

but did I imagine a hint of mischief?

And wisps of hair, escaped in wayward

streaks from that disciplined cap of hair.


She looked so familiar. That face could

have been mine, once, was the face

I saw in the mirror when I was young;

The face in the photograph shared

my features; the same round heavy eyes,

except brown, like Charlie’s, a drooping

left eye and ear like hers, nose straight

but tilting up. In the mirror

I saw that at my age now, I was like her

grandmother, instead of she being mine.


I was often told I was her namesake and

had inherited her “gift,” a rare artistic talent.

In this influence, I have lived my life

with determination to redeem the gift

we each were given at birth. I view her now,

as a mere girl of only twenty- three, scry

her face for inner strengths, and wonder at

her weaknesses, by which to measure

the lessons I have learned, that might

have fulfilled the life she didn’t get to live.


Images and Writing are the Copyright © of Ruth Zachary.